Tech Insights

From Cobalts to Schmaltz: Chicken Fat for Supercapacitor Electrodes

May 31, 2024 by Jake Hertz

Researchers have transformed chicken fat to make carbon-based electrodes for supercapacitors.

Lithium-ion batteries used in energy storage devices require expensive, environmentally damaging rare earth metals. Additionally, due to their chemical composition, these batteries pose challenges in recycling and disposal. Manufacturing these devices often involves processes with significant carbon footprints. 

In searching for lithium alternatives, researchers at Yeungnam University devised a technique to convert chicken fat into carbon-based electrodes for supercapacitors. The electrodes could offer a solution to sourcing and manufacturing challenges.


Will chicken fat make a better supercapacitor?

Will chicken fat make a better supercapacitor? Image adapted from Canva and Adobe Stock


The Environmental Toll of Energy Storage

Global renewable energy capacity surged by approximately 50 percent in 2023 over the previous year, marking an unprecedented development. While conventional energy storage technologies like supercapacitors, lead-acid, and lithium-ion batteries have facilitated renewable energy integration, they come with negative environmental effects such as resource depletion, hazardous waste generation, and high carbon emissions during manufacturing.


Preparation of supercapacitor electrode with activated carbon

Preparation of supercapacitor electrode with activated carbon. Image used courtesy of Ding et al.


In particular, manufacturing supercapacitors involves producing carbon-based electrodes, typically requiring carbonaceous materials like activated carbon or carbon nanotubes. These materials are derived from fossil fuels or mined using processes that emit greenhouse gases and contribute to environmental degradation. Additionally, the manufacturing process can produce significant carbon emissions due to energy-intensive steps such as heating, drying, pyrolysis, and activation. 

Mining and processing raw materials for supercapacitors also pose environmental threats, including habitat destruction, water pollution, and releasing toxic substances. Supercapacitors’ costly carbon footprint highlights the need for easier, less expensive, sustainable production methods.


Turning Clucks Into Current

Researchers at Yeungnam University in South Korea have addressed the challenge by repurposing chicken fat into carbon-based electrodes for supercapacitors. Their method involved transforming chicken fat into carbon-based electrodes, offering an innovative solution to the increasing demand for storage solutions.


Converting chicken fat to carbon-based electrodes

Converting chicken fat to carbon-based electrodes. Image used courtesy of the authors


The process started with rendering chicken fat using a gas flame pistol and burning the melted oil to collect soot-containing carbon-based nanostructures (CNOs). Electron microscopy revealed that the CNOs resembled concentric graphite rings with uniform spherical lattices. By treating the CNOs with thiourea, the researchers improved their electrical properties, enhancing capacitance, durability, and energy density. 

When carbon nanoparticles treated with thiourea solution (h-CNOs) derived from chicken fat were integrated into the negative electrode of an asymmetric supercapacitor, they exhibited outstanding capacitance, durability, high energy, and power density. A specific capacitance of 261 F/g was achieved, surpassing undoped CNOs’. Furthermore, the h-CNOs exhibited a rate capability of 69% and maintained cycling stability of 97.5% under high current densities. 

The asymmetric supercapacitor, utilizing h-CNOs as the negative electrode and MnCo2S4 (MCS) as the positive electrode, exhibited outstanding energy and power performance at 32.8 Wh/kg and 7350 W/kg. After 5000 cycles, the capacitance retention remained at 97 percent.


An Eco-Friendly Energy Storage Future

The team demonstrated the supercapacitor’s real-world capabilities by charging it and connecting two units to illuminate red, green, and blue LEDs simultaneously. This demonstration highlights the potential benefits of using food waste, such as chicken fat, as a carbon source, advancing the quest for eco-friendly energy solutions. The easy and strategic method of producing novel carbonaceous materials from bio-waste oil, like chicken fat oil, could offer a significant advantage for commercial energy storage devices and revolutionize industrial energy storage production.